I am standing on soft ground, a few metres back from a shallow drain that feeds into the main river just beyond this piece of wet woodland. Somewhere in the tangle of dead stems that surround the root plate of a fallen Alder ahead of me is a Water Rail. The bird had been feeding in the open but ran for cover at my approach, underlining its secretive nature. Although I am hidden somewhat by an old Alder it also limits my view and the bird could already have moved away without me noticing.
I play this waiting game often, watching patiently in the hope that some bird or animal will re-emerge. At other times I select a likely spot with a good view and just wait to see what comes along. Not everyone has the patience to sit or stand still, often for the best part of an hour, but it is something that I have always done. I find that I am not so much waiting but gradually tuning myself into what is going on around me. I am getting a sense of the place and, in some way, becoming part of it. Take today, for example; my ears gradually start to pick up gentle rustlings around me, the sounds of small mammals and birds working through the vegetation in search of food. I pick out the soft calls of a tit flock as it moves through the wood towards me, the shrill notes of a Treecreeper and the distant ‘chack’ of Jackdaws over the town.
There is a sudden ‘pichou’, the call of a Marsh Tit, and soon I have a pair of these delightful little birds working their way down through the canopy to my left. Lower and lower they descend until they reach the gurgling shallows of the drain, where they drink in turn perched on an old reed stem. Wet woodland is a good place to find these birds which, because of their hole-nesting habits, require secondary cavities in standing dead wood.
A larger creature is moving through the reeds and dead grass, most likely a Muntjac since these woods are full of them. The river is no obstacle for them and on occasion one may be seen swimming from one bank to the other. My attention returns to the spot where the Water Rail disappeared but there is no sign of the bird. I am a little pushed for time this morning and am forced to return to the path. My departure prompts a flurry of brown wings as the Water Rail appears, rushing away before taking flight and disappearing deeper into the wood. Today, it seems, my waiting was not long enough.